JUST IN: Seth Adams case gets a new judge, new date for second trial

Richard and Lydia Adams with attorney Wallace McCall at the Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach on March 30, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The retrial of the multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Palm Beach County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Custer in the 2012 shooting death of Seth Adams will be held before a different federal judge as early as July 10.

Seth Adams

In an order signed Monday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley, who presided over the trial that ended  last month with a hung jury, assigned the case to his colleague, federal Judge Donald Middlebrooks.

Hurley, who reportedly planned to retire before the summer, had scheduled the second trial to begin Oct. 10. But, in the order, he said attorneys for Adams’ parents and the sheriff’s office  indicated they wanted it to be held sooner. Both sides agreed to a July 10 start, he said.

Middlebrooks agreed to hear the case, Hurley wrote. He told the attorneys to consult with Middlebrooks’ staff to see if the trial could be held sooner.

PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer

After a month-long trial, the nine jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict about whether Custer used excessive force when he fatally shot the 23-year-old as Adams returned to A One Stop Garden Shop in Loxahatchee Groves, where he lived and worked with his brother and sister-in-law.

Attorney Wallace McCall, who talked to some of the jurors after the trial, said he was told there was one hold out. He had sought $10 million to $20 million for Lydia and Richard Adams, claiming Custer lied when he said Adams attacked him and the sheriff’s office helped him cover up the truth.

The sheriff’s office has said that Custer, who was working undercover on the night of the shooting, was in fear for his life.

Attorney for Anthony Simpson wants off case, says he was duped

When attorneys tell judges they want off a case, they routinely cite “irreconcilable differences,” which typically means they haven’t been paid.

 

But, when a Jupiter attorney decided he no longer wanted to represent former North Palm Beach jeweler Anthony Simpson, he felt compelled to apologize to the judge and lawyers representing a New Jersey woman who is trying to evict Simpson from his home. Court records show he deeded it to her in 2015 in exchange for $450,000.

“My credibility is all I have and I have been lied to repeatedly by (Simpson),” attorney David Kuschel wrote in a motion filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court earlier this month. “I did not become an attorney to abuse the judicial system or to lie to other members of the Florida Bar and the Court.”

Like others who have dealt with the former owner of Shamrock Jewelers on Northlake Boulevard, Kuschel said he believed Simpson when he told him he had “a financial backer.” Simpson promised repeatedly that the anonymous benefactor would give him $600,000 to settle the eviction lawsuit filed against him by Jodi Monell, as trustee of two family-owned trusts in Colts Neck, N.J., Kuschel wrote.

Kuschel said he met with people who were interested in buying Simpson’s home but that they didn’t understand the urgency of doing so. “Apparently, (Simpson) also misrepresented facts to the financial backers,” he wrote.

“The undersigned counsel does not know what else he can do, hence withdrawing from this action is my best course of action,” he wrote in the request.

In 2015, Simpson repeatedly told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Erik Kimball he had “an angel” who would repay those who invested roughly $12 million in Rollaguard, a company he formed to produce a high-tech brief case. When the anonymous benefactor never appeared, Kimball put a bankruptcy trustee in charge of Rollaguard and Shamrock, who closed them both.

Trustee Robert Furr has filed dozens of lawsuits trying to recover millions from those who made money on both Shamrock and Rollaguard at the expense of others. Simpson also faces charges in Louisiana for writing bad checks to a diamond broker there.

Circuit Judge Edward Artau has scheduled a hearing on April 17 on Monell’s request to order Simpson out of his Oyster Road home.

Six things to know about WPB federal judge who ruled against Trump

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, 65, has been on the federal bench in West Palm Beach since 2002 when he was appointed by Gov. George W. Bush. Here’s a short biography:

Trump ordered to pay $5.77 million to members of Jupiter club

Federal judge to Trump: No disrespect intended

WASHINGTON...Judge Kenneth Marra, left, is sworn-in Thursday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to the U.S. District Court. Standing with Marra is David Cerone, right, nominated for District Court Judge of the Western District of Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rick McKay/Cox Washington Bureau) ORG XMIT: COX ORG XMIT: MER0704270031591631
Judge Kenneth Marra, left, is sworn into office in 2002.
  • After his nomination by Bush to a newly-created seat, he was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 82-0.
  • He served as a Palm Beach County circuit judge from 1996-2002.
  • A native of Queens, N.Y., he graduated from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1973 and from Stetson University College of Law in 1977.

Trump in Palm Beach: The latest on protests planned Saturday

  • A devout Roman Catholic, he has eight adult children.
  • He will preside in the upcoming health-care fraud trial of Palm Beach County ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. Separately, Melgen faces corruption charges in New Jersey with his longtime pal U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
  • Some of Marra’s other notable cases include: Joseph Zada, who was convicted of mail fraud for stealing at least $37 million from an estimated 45 victims, including former NHL hockey star  Sergei Fedorov. He is also handling a case in which victims of sexual abuse by Palm Beach resident Jeffrey Epstein are accusing federal prosecutors of violating the Victims’ Rights Act by not telling them about the non-prosecution agreement they signed.

Read more Donald Trump coverage from The Post 

Federal judge to Trump: No disrespect intended

Dealing with Donald Trump can unleash unexpected fury as a federal judge in California discovered in June when the then-presidential candidate questioned the jurist’s Mexican heritage.

Trump ordered to pay $5.74 million to members of Jupiter club

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

In ruling against Trump on Wednesday, in a decision involving Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra made it clear he meant the new president no disrespect when he referred to him simply as Donald Trump or D. Trump throughout the 22-page order.

Six things to know about WPB federal judge who ruled against Trump

Trump in Palm Beach: The latest on protests planned Saturday

But, to make sure there was no misunderstanding, Marra added a footnote.

From the archive: Bino commentary: Step aside, Judge Marra. It’s your turn to be an unsuitable Trump judge

“At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Donald J. Trump was a private citizen. As a result, the Court will refer to him as such in this decision. In doing so, the Court means no disrespect to him or to the esteemed position he now holds.”

Read more Donald Trump coverage from The Post 

Boca attorney again asks court to declare Trump mentally unfit

A Boca Raton probate and guardianship lawyer has renewed his efforts to have Donald Trump declared mentally unfit to serve as president of the United States.

Donald Trump
New U.S. President Donald Trump

Attorney James Herb said Trump’s actions over the last 10 days – fighting over the size of the crowd at his inauguration, insisting he really won the popular vote and inciting international turmoil with an immigration ban – reinforce his earlier claims that part-time Palm Beach resident is delusional.

A similar guardianship petition Herb filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in the run-up to the November election was thrown out by Circuit Judge Jaimie Goodman. As a state court judge, Goodman said he had no power to block Trump’s candidacy or remove him from office. Further, he ruled, Herb didn’t have a relationship with Trump that would allow him to ask that the real estate tycoon be declared incompetent.

Herb said he has addressed those legal obstacles in a new petition filed Monday. “I did not have a relationship with him but I now do because he’s my president,” Herb said.

Further, he said, he’s not asking a judge to remove Trump from office. That would be done in accordance with a process outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Herb said he is simply asking a judge to appoint a team of experts to evaluate the new chief executive’s mental health. If Trump is found incompetent by the three-person panel, the judge could then limit his activities.

In the petition, Herb is asking that Trump be barred from “seeking or retaining employment.” In an asterisks, he notes that he is asking Trump be prohibited from “retaining employment as President of the United States.” If a judge agrees to the limitation, the order would be forwarded to federal officials capable of removing him from office.

As he did in the previous petition, Herb claims Trump exhibits signs of narcissism and histrionic personality disorder. Both are recognized as mental illnesses by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since taking office, Trump has also exhibited signs of being delusional, Herb wrote.

Herb, who was criticized as a publicity-hound after filing the first petition in October, said his actions aren’t part of some self-serving publicity stunt. A longtime guardianship and probate lawyer, he said his practice is now primarily limited to wills and trusts.

“I’m not interested in getting business. I have plenty of business,” he said.

His goal, he said, is much more far-reaching. “I’m trying to save the world,” he said.

He is not alone in his suspicion that Trump is mentally unfit to be president. A group calling itself “We The People,” on Sunday started an online petition to “Demand Congress Require an Independent Expert Panel Determine the President’s Psychiatric Stability to Protect America.” If they get 99,999 signatures by Feb. 28, the White House by law has to respond.

 

UPDATE: Facebook was weapon in nasty PBC judicial race

UPDATE: The “Truth About Gregg Lerman” Facebook page was taken down Friday. Richard Giorgio, Dana Santino’s political consultant, said in an email, “Several defense attorneys who are supporting Dana Santino contacted the campaign.  They felt the Facebook page “The Truth About Gregg Lerman” could be viewed as a commentary on all defense attorneys.  In deference to them, the page has been taken down.”

A Palm Beach County judicial candidate is using Facebook to blast her opponent as unfit because he works as a criminal defense attorney.

In a Facebook page titled, The Truth About Gregg Lerman, a political committee operated by Dana Santino’s campaign consultant attacks Lerman “for trying to free Palm Beach County’s worst criminals!”

lermanfb2The page, that offers links to newspaper stories about several high-profile cases Lerman has handled, underscores further how little Santino understands about the criminal justice system or what criminal defense attorneys do, Lerman said.

“A criminal defense attorney works to preserve the system and make sure it works,” said Lerman. He is challenging Santino in the Nov. 8 election for a seat on the county court bench, where misdemeanor cases and civil matters, worth less than $15,000, are decided.

A few newspaper stories don’t begin to tell the story of his 31-year career or the job of a criminal defense attorney, Lerman said. The job involves more than appearing in court. It often involves trying to get people help with demons, such as drug addiction, to keep them from committing crimes. It also involves protecting clients from overzealous prosecutors and making sure the punishment fits the crime.

He said he suspects Santino, who in an email to would-be supporters last week said Lerman represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals,” has stepped over a line. Unlike those seeking other elected positions, judicial candidates are constrained by judicial canons and can face sanctions for violating them.

Richard Giorgio, Santino’s political consultant, said Santino is on firm legal ground. “We’ve looked at the canons,” said Giorgio, who administers Taxpayers for Public Integrity which created the website for Santino.

“Candidates are allowed to draw clear, honest, factual differences with their opponents,” he said. “There’s nothing misleading. One candidate focused her career on defending victims and one focuses his on defending perpetrators of crime.”

Santino, who works as a guardianship and probate attorney, worked as a victim’s advocate from 1993-94, according to her campaign brochure. Giorgio said she still represents victims of crime.

Lerman said he does, too. He said he and those close to him have been victims of crime. He said he understands both sides. “It’s aggravating because she doesn’t know me or what I do,” he said.

Santino, he said, is violating judicial candidates by misrepresenting his credentials and questioning the validity of the type of law he practices. “You can’t attack someone personally based on what they do and infer they can’t be fair and impartial,” he said. “That’s exactly what they claim.”

He said he intends to seek an opinion from a campaign ethics committee of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and file a complaint against Santino with the Florida Bar.

Giorgio indicated he isn’t worried. “He doesn’t represent these people because he champions constitutional principles. He’s doing it because he make a lot of money doing it,” Giorgio said.

Lerman accepts court appointments to represent people charged with murder. Most agree it is far from lucrative.

But, he said, he does it because he respects the criminal justice system and takes his responsibilities as a lawyer seriously. “I raised my hand 31 years ago to uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida and the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

 

PBC court race gets ugly – some say – in Donald Trump-like way

A Palm Beach County judicial candidate’s claim that her opponent’s legal chops are questionable because he represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals” has inflamed criminal defense attorneys and raised concerns that Donald Trump tactics are being used in a county court race.

Gregg Lerman
Gregg Lerman

Comments Dana Santino made in an email last week about her opponent, Gregg Lerman, raise questions about her understanding of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that anyone charged with a crime has the right to have an attorney represent them, attorneys said.

In a statement on Sunday, the president of the Palm Beach Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers made it clear the group isn’t backing either candidate in the nonpartisan race.

Dana Santino
Dana Santino

“However, we do support the Constitution of the United States,” wrote Christine Geraghty, an assistant public defender.  “Every lawyer in Florida takes an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Anyone who believes that there is something wrong with a lawyer upholding the ethical duty we have to our clients, to the Constitution, and to the rules of the Florida Bar does not understand how the legal system is supposed to work.”

Santino, a Palm Beach Gardens probate and guardianship attorney who worked as an intern in both the public defender’s and state attorney’s offices while she was in law school, said she understands the system.

“I completely respect and I’m proud of our justice system and while every person is entitled to a defense, Mr. Lerman is not a public defender and chooses to represent individuals who commit heinous crimes,” she said in a statement.

Lerman, a criminal defense attorney, said Santino’s description of his clients indicates she doesn’t understand another important Constitutional concept: innocent until proven guilty.

Further, he said in most cases he is appointed by judges to represent poor people accused of murder. Court-appointed attorneys are needed when the public defender’s office is unable to do so either because it is already representing a co-defendant or its workload doesn’t allow it.

Without private attorneys willing to accept such cases, the system would collapse, said Val Rodriguez, a private attorney who handles both criminal and civil cases and is supporting Lerman. “He’s performing a public service,” he said.

He said he was “flabbergasted” by Santino’s comments. “It’s so elementary. That’s why it’s so shocking,” he said. “It’s the first thing you learn in law school – to treat all parties with respect. You don’t call people criminals, especially if you’re a judge.”

Santino and Lerman are vying for a seat on the county court bench where misdemeanor cases and civil matters where less than $15,000 is at stake are decided.

Rodriguez likened Santino’s comments to criticism Trump leveled at Hillary Clinton during last week’s debate. The GOP presidential candidate accused Clinton of getting a man accused of raping a 12-year-old off and then laughing at the victim.

Early in her career, Clinton was appointed to represent the man, who ultimately took a plea deal. But, fact-checkers at the Associated Press said there is no evidence Clinton laughed at the victim when interviewed about the case years later.

Rodriguez said Santino is trying to tar Lerman with the same ugly brush. “She’s riding the coattails of these crazy Trump supporters,” Rodriguez said of Santino.

Santino said she is simply underscoring the differences between herself and Lerman. “I have spent part of my career and much of my life helping and advocating for victims of rape, homicide and domestic violence,” she wrote. “Those are simply the facts.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Clinton worked as an assistant public defender. She didn’t. She was appointed to represent the man in the rape case.

 

Scott appoints Weiss, Rowe as circuit judges

tmpNSWfqS-mdly-photoGov. Rick Scott on Friday filled two openings on the Palm Beach County Circuit bench.

He appointed County Judge Daliah H. Weiss to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Circuit Judge John L. Phillips, and he appointed Cymonie S. Rowe to fill the open spot created by the resignation of Circuit Judge Amy Smith.

Weiss, 46, of Wellington, has been a county court judge since 2012. She was an assistant state attorney from 1996-2012. Weiss received her bachelor’s degree from Emory University and her law degree from the Villanova Law School.

Rowe, 47, of Boca Raton, has been a senior trial attorney for Liberty Mutual since 2007. She previously was an attorney with Green, Ackerman & Frost, P.A. Rowe received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and her law degree from Nova Southeastern University.